Tag Archives: Audiophile News

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set Part 4: The Piano and 1+1

Today in my listening report to the new Vinyl Me, Please box set called The Story Of Herbie Hancock we’ll explore two very different side of this influential artist’s career.  If you missed the first portions of this review series, please click here and here and here for Parts 1 & 2 & 3 respectively.  

The Piano

One of the enlightening things about exploring this boxed set is the discovery that Herbie had many albums released only in Japan. The Piano, from 1979, is one of them and artistically I can’t understand why this album was put out in the United States back in the day. 

I mean, sure it was a far cry from the jazz-fueled funk of Head Hunters and Man Child, but I would think that some of Herbie’s fans would’ve loved this, his first and only solo acoustic piano recording.  

The good news is that we can re-discover this wonderful album today here in the states. According to his website, a “‘Direct-to-Disc’ recording technique was employed, meaning that Hancock had to consecutively play three to four songs live in one take, making sure not to exceed the maximum recording time of 16 minutes. For most musicians, the conditions would be an impediment, but Hancock seized these severe limitations as a challenge and opportunity to focus his creativity.”

The title of The Piano tells you exactly what to expect: Herbie Hancock playing solo in all his glory. Here he tackles many favorite standards including: “My Funny Valentine,” “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  Side two is filled with four equally intimate and mesmerizing originals including “Sonrisa” which later appeared on the 1+1 collection, and “Harvest Time” (which was recorded by Flora Purim’s sister Yana in the late 1980s).

The fidelity on this recording is quite fantastic. I inquired about the source used in making this disc and found out from the Vinyl Me Please folks that while The Piano was indeed recorded direct to disc, a safety tape copy was made back in the day. That original tape copy was transferred to a new tape for the purposes of creating this set and from which Bernie Grundman cut new lacquers for this release. Purists will thus be happy to know this is still an analog recording and while it is arguably a generation down from the master disc, it is still fantastic sounding plus we get the benefit of Mr. Grundman’s mastering expertise to bring out the most from this music. Someday I’ll be curious to hear an original Japanese pressing of this to compare and contrast.

Happily, the album is well centered and dead quiet which is essential for music like this. At risk of sounding like a broken record, I still find it a wonder that this album didn’t get any sort of release in the United States back in the day (especially given that he put out an acoustic piano duets album with Chick Corea around that time). 

1+1

This is there all digital recording in The Story Of Herbie Hancock boxed set and it is notable for several things. First and foremost, it doesn’t sound or even feel remotely digital. Proof that with proper recording techniques and good mastering digital recordings can sound real good (sorry analog purists!).  Secondly, as far as I can tell this marks the first time this 1997 album of duets by Hancock with longtime friend and bandmate Wayne Shorter has appeared on vinyl.  

As with the other releases in the set, the quality on this release is very high, pressed on thick dark 180-gram vinyl that is well centered. I can’t emphasize this enough because with music like this where you have pure saxophone and acoustic piano playing, with long held notes and such, any imperfection would ruin the music, causing it to sway in and out of tune.  

The performances are exemplary of course, with the two artists playing off one another, inspiring melodic development and even taking some chances which mostly work really well. I’m especially fond of Wayne Shorter’s Satie-esque “Aug San Suu Kyi” but this is one of those albums that is best experienced as a whole… many musical riches will emerge with each listen. 

And, that is really the essence of Herbie Hancock’s music, in a way. Timeless, challenging and beautiful sounds that give you rich rewards for the price of your attention.  You should listen…

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Why Are The Violent Femmes An Important American Music Band?

I remember trying to explain to a friend in college why he needed to listen to a band called The Violent Femmes.

“They’re fun,” I said.

My friend, who had not fully embraced punk and new wave by that point gave me that dubious questioning look to which I replied something like: ‘Really… they are like a punk folk rock trio.’

Then I played him a track from their first album and I think my friend was immediately into it. 

At that moment, it would have been handy if I could have given him a “greatest hits” album but in 1983 those hits hadn’t really happened yet. There was just that first album. But what a debut it is with instant classics like “Kiss Off,” “Blister In The Sun” and “Gone Daddy Gone.”  But there was much more to come…

Fast forward five albums and twice as many years later and the band issued a nifty compilation called Add It Up (1981-1993). I thought this was only on CD by then.  Apparently, it did get a vinyl release somewhere (I only see copies from Greece on Discogs!) but it must have been pretty limited as I never saw a copy anywhere. Now, celebrating the band’s 40th Anniversary, this indeed handy hits-and-more album has been issued in vinyl and I couldn’t be happier.

As an end-to-end listening experience, Add It Up (1981-1993)is remarkably coherent given it was made from a variety of sources including demos, spoken word “interstitials,” phone messages, live recordings and outtakes as well as fan favorites.  

The vinyl is dark, thick and well centered  so all those check marks tick off just fine. Craft Recordings did a nice job on the packaging as well. Perhaps my only complaint is that the inner-sleeves seem a bit tight on the records and sounded a little grainy pulling them out, so I worried about possible scratching (easily resolved by putting each disc in their own new sleeves, but be aware of this if you decide to get the album). 

At the end of the day comes the music and here the watch word is, indeed, fun! 

If you like The Violent Femmes, you should definitely get Add It Up (1981-1993). If you are just getting into the band, this is actually not a bad place to expand your horizons after getting the first album. One of the best debuts ever, it remains an essential of ‘80s rock. This music holds up and feels timeless, relevant and delivering an alternative life viewpoint that is important to at least understand if not embrace. I get all that from a three minute pop song?  You bet!  

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Triple Vinyl Treat: Chicago/The Blues/Today!

I’ve long known about (and been a fan of) the Harry Smith Anthology Of Folk Music from the early 1950s which is highly regarded as a major influence on thousands of musicians in the 1960s. Much of the music in that fabulous set was connective tissue pulling together musicians who emerged in the psychedelic movement — from The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver to  Janis Joplin and many others.

What I somehow missed was that in 1966 Vanguard Records put out a kind of equivalent series of albums covering the Chicago electric blues scene, called Chicago/The Blues/Today! The original album series of three individual LPs have become sought after collectors items commanding significant dollars on websites like Discogs and Popsike. For Record Store Day, these individual albums have been neatly compiled into a handy triple-gatefold package.

The set was curated by musician, author, historian and producer Samuel Charters who brought numerous notable Midwestern blues artists together to record short sets showcasing the then-modern electric Chicago blues sound. The result was a batch of sizzling recordings including by Otis Rush, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Homesick James, Walter Horton, Otis Spann, Jimmy (aka James) Cotton and Willie Dixon. 

The album may have helped turn late-1960s and ‘70s stars onto these sounds but more importantly it likely helped bring some much needed notoriety to established American blues musicians who were being overshadowed by rising stars. 

Certainly, the British blues movement was already afoot by that time this album was released. The Rolling Stones recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago in 1964 and 1965 and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers were already making waves with its shining star Eric Clapton that year as well.  The Lovin’ Spoonful was exploring its electrified jug-band folk-blues-rock out of New York and by 1965 The Butterfield Blues Band was already making waves with their first release on Elektra Records. 

So it is great that Vanguard issued this set bringing much deserved attention the music and these musicians. This is kind of an audio encyclopedia of blues form including now-classics such as “It Hurts Me Too,” “All Night Long,” “Rocket 88,” “Dust My Broom,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and many others. I’m still wrapping my head around all this music so no deep favorites have emerged although I really liked Otis Rush’s “Everything Going To Turn Out Alright” which feels pretty much like an instrumental version of “I Think Its Gonna Work Out Fine” (the first Grammy nominated hit by Ike & Tina Turner, later covered by Bruce Springsteen in concert in the 1970s)

This new edition features all-analog mastering from the original stereo tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio, pressed on 180-gram black vinyl at MPO in Europe. The sound is terrific and the pressings are well centered and quiet.  The album includes the original album liner notes and cover designs of the original issue — each inner sleeve is effectively a reproduction of the original LP cover — and there is an updated essay from the 1999 CD edition. 

All in all, I really like Chicago/The Blues/Today!  If you missed it on Record Store Day, do try to pick up a copy as its a great addition to any basic blues collection.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

How Do You Explain Our Hobby to A Non-Audiophile?

Noted humorist Mark Twain once said, “we are all ignorant, just about different things.” I have also heard a variation that goes – “we are all ignorant about something.” It seems to make sense that while any of us are knowledgeable about some, maybe even many things, we are not experts on everything. High performance audio included.

When we look at the number of audiophiles who spend ever increasing sums of money on a musical playback system and compare that to everyday, plain ole music lovers, we easily find a schism in the numbers. How many audiophiles there are compared to how many music lovers there are makes our hobby indiscernibly small. “i” somethings or other sell in the tens of millions, maybe even more. Most all play music. Yes, not great music but music none the less. How many, by comparison, world class, best of the best amps sell each year? 

For most listeners, taking a smart phone and connecting it to some type of Bluetooth device is wonderful. A magical feeling usually ensues. Better still is connecting that smart device to a home network allowing listeners to enjoy music stored on their “i whatever” – all over the house. And of course, there are devices that play music on demand – “Alexa, play some jazz” and poof, jazz plays. 

If this is the extent of real world, practical experience an ordinary, everyday music aficionado uses to play a song, and little is known about better playback methods, how does an audiophile explain the hobby to one who could care less about dynamics and standing waves? Try doing so may enact a deer in the headlights look, and an internal question that resembles “what is he talking about?” 

How then do we, as music lovers, as listeners who want something better and are prepared to pay to have it, even as audiophiles, explain our hobby to someone who feels an iPhone is all the musical excellence one should ever req uire? How do you explain the driving experience of a Ferrari to a person who feels a scooter is all one needs to get around? 

Over the years, I’ve had any number of non-audiophiles in my audio room. I try to explain what they first see, most notably the acoustical panels on the walls. In all honesty, the correct answer to “what do all these things hanging on the walls do?” is steeped in physics. Providing an accurate answer relies on discussing the conversion of sonic energy to heat and the resultant reduction of harmful reflected sound waves. 

When asked that particular question, however, I usually stumble around with some sort of answer like “oh, they help make music sound better.” No one, not one single person has ever asked me “how?” I seriously doubt anyone is substantively interested in the laws of thermal dynamics and using kinetic energy to convert sound energy to heat, thus nulling reflected sound and improving sonics. 

Less still do non audiophiles seem to be even remotely informed about the various components in my audio rack. “What is that thing with the blue light?” When I answer “that’s a DAC” I typically see an eyebrow bending and quizzical look on their face. “What on Earth is a DAC?” comes the reply. I sometimes feel compelled to answer, “why not ask Alexa?” 

Most people who find their way to my audio room are polite enough to not ask the daring question about how much things cost. Because in the real world, revealing to a non-audiophile the cost of our hobby can be markedly overwhelming. When a big box system may be bought for somewhere around a thousand dollars, and Alexa and a music subscription may be purchased for less than a $100.00, an audio system investment of five or six figures, let alone more, will usually impart an attitude best summed up by “seriously?” “Just to play a song?” 

A dealer friend of mine has a neighbor who loves golf. Adores it. Plays nearly every weekend and during the week if possible. He has thousands of dollars invested in the latest technology in woods (which is a misnomer as drivers, 3 and 5 woods are seldom made from wood anymore), irons, putters, bags and shoes. Who knows how much he has invested in golf clubs. A Scotty Cameron putter is about $400.00 or thereabouts. Add in the rest of the bag and thousands of dollars is very realistic. 

My dealer friend’s neighbor does not stop there, however. He takes trips to world class golf venues, stays in magnificent resorts and spends incredible amounts of money sufficing the effort of hitting a ball into a hole in the ground. Now don’t misunderstand me, I love golf. I don’t play anymore, but I have visited, and played some of the most hallowed golf venues in the country. I am not criticizing golf by any stretch. I am merely using it as an example of how any of us can choose to use our spare time – and the resultant cost in the effort. Should it be different for an audio system? 

And for some reason I cannot seem to fathom or understand, other hobbies costing considerable disposable income seem perfectly acceptable to most folks. Audio, on the other hand, yields quizzical looks with that “what” expression on their face. If I have six figures in my audio system, how is that worse than a guy who spends an equal amount of money on a sports car – and then drives it only when the weather is nice and never to a destination, just out of the garage, around for a while and back? 

Admit it, we audiophiles face a difficult road in trying to make those who have yet to drink the Kool Aid understand. We have these machines to play a song that cost a fortune, need all these ancillary things to help them out, demand precise adjustment, and are owned by seldom satisfied people who are always looking for something better. 

In the end, we may best find a workaround by inviting that non-audiophile to sit in the listening chair, play a brilliantly well recorded song and allow the listener to hear a previously unknown experience. Proofs in the pudding. And in this case, listening is all the explanation one should ever need. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Preview: Jazz Dispensary’s Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2

I’ve written about the fine Jazz Dispensary sampler series from Craft Recordings in the past. These are thoughtfully curated collections of rare funky soul-jazz sides culled from the label archives of parent company Concord Music which controls the catalogs of Fantasy, Prestige, Milestone, Fania and many other labels. 

Why do you need to own these collections? Well as a budding collector of soul-jazz and groove jazz titles from the ‘60s and early ‘70s I can attest to several things:  

  1. These albums are often hard to find and if you do they can be pricey in decent condition
  2. If you do find them used, they are often in “well loved” to downright beat up and abused condition. These records were great party albums often played on average to low quality automatic record changers of the day, so people grooving and dancing to the tunes didn’t much think about taking care of their vinyl.  and… 
  3. Many of these albums are good but usually have one or two standout tracks which is what DJs tend to zero in on, those grooves with the killer beats and drum breaks and a combination of strong songs and good production vibes. 

So, the concept underlying Jazz Dispensary’s series is useful. It gives you the intrepid soul-jazz collector a chance to hear some of these great grooves in a form that makes for a fun party album in its own right, without breaking your bank for pricey rarities.  On this latest edition, guest curator Doyle Davis (of Grimey’s, a used records and books store in Nashville) offers up a second dose of his Dank D-Funk Blend

While the first edition focused on the Prestige Records vaults, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 taps into other labels in the company’s roster.

You’ll hear the Afro-Cuban beats of Ray Barretto’s peace love plea “Together,” Charles Earland’s fiery “Letha” and Leon Spencer groovy take on Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” Esther Marrow breaks out a funky “Things Ain’t Right.”

I really loved the title track of Pleasure’s 1977 LP Joyous, one of those groups I’ve never heard of before or even seen out in the wilds of crate digging.  Cal Tjader surprisingly good cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” gives way to  Pucho & The Latin Soul Brothers 1968 smoker “Heat!” 

There is even a solid Johnny “Guitar” Watson tune here from 1973 — “You’ve Got a Hard Head” — before he descended into the the disappointing DJM Records disco era.

All tracks on The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 are reportedly mastered from their original analog tapes. The only one of these I already had in my collection is the Pucho track which sounds very comparable to my original pressing, with perhaps a bit more crisp detail on the high end. It is also mastered a bit more quietly than my original pressing so I had to turn up my amp a bit after switching albums. 

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is pressed on surprisingly quiet and — happily —well centered orange-red swirl, fire-colored vinyl which was made at Memphis Record Pressing.  A limited edition of 3800 copies, The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is packaged in a quite stunning jacked featuring embossed artwork by Argentinian artist Mariano Peccinetti, who designed the previous volume’s cover.  

The Dank D-Funk Blend, Vol. 2 is a fun jam. Put it on your Record Store Day list and be sure to grab a copy if you can. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Preview: Van Dyke Parks & Veronica Valerio Rediscover America On Culture-Bridging New Vinyl EP, CD & Stream

When I first read that there would be a new Van Dyke Parks (VDP) collaboration recording coming out I got excited. When I learned the cover art was being created by Klaus Voormann, I started buzzing. Then, when I first heard the advance CD, I was mesmerized both by Veronica Valerio’s voice, the strong melodies within and how VDP wove wonderfully unconventional yet somehow traditional, haunting orchestral arrangements in and around it all.   

I have since played Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America many times and realize that what is especially exciting about this music is that it bridges cultures with one foot in the past and another in the future. While it sounds very much like VDP, because of the collaboration it all feels fresh.

It is important to recognize that this album was crafted during the pandemic, making its creation extra special, not only breaking down cultural barriers but also breaking down the walls of isolation. In VDP’s words: “This is a shared vision of what America is all about. I’m trying to learn how to cross the aisles in my work and I’m exploring with the freedom that Verónica has allowed me.”

Verónica Valerio is a singer, songwriter and harpist born in Veracruz, Mexico. There she studied music and later in New York. She has lectured at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. She has performed her music around the world, anchored in the son jarocho musical style.  According to the Wiki this: “represents a fusion of Spanish (Andalusian and Canary Islander) and African musical elements, reflecting the population which evolved in the region from Spanish colonial times.”

This is all really important as Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America sounds quite unlike any Spanish language recording I’ve heard before, yet it sounds familiar at the same time. It has elements of styles I have heard but ultimately there is a distinctive ebb and flow, perhaps due to to Valerio’s vocal phrasing and harp playing which VDP responded to in collaboration. From the press materials, again we gain some insight to their approach from VDP:

“We got this record done with a fabulous group of string players — all long-distance. In quarantine! In isolation! She would send me a voice and a harp. Or maybe voice, harp and percussionist or violinist. And I would surround that with a chamber orchestra — seven strings, five woodwinds, so forth. Amazing adventure for me.”

And it is this adventuresome spirit where VDP’s arrangements lift off into the stratosphere, making this music at times sound like a soundtrack to an alternate universe version of Disney’s Coco. I mean that in the best possible way (I loved Coco!)

“Cielito Lindo,”with its periodic hip hop-esque beat-drops could be a dance track in a perfect world.  “The Flight Of The Guacamaya” has a lovely lilt and the hook on “Camino A Casa” could be a hit. While opening track “Veracruz” felt to me like a love letter to Ary Barrosa’s classic “Brazil,” it was actually written years earlier by Agustín Lara (I learned something new today!) 

VDP has explored this creative approach over the years, no doubt, but this collaboration is even more outside the box than others I’ve heard (a good thing!).  For those of you who know VDP’s albums, imagine if Spanish-leaning songs like “Palm Desert” and “Public Domain” (from 1967’s Song Cycle) went on a deep cruise along the coast of Mexico.  

You can also hear hints of this on his 2019 collaboration with Gaby Moreno called Spangled! but even that feels a bit reigned in, tied to time and space. Tracks like “Wedding In Madagascar” and “Money Is King” from 2013’s fabulous Songs Cycled pre-echo this direction where the vocals dance around the time signatures like a jazz musician improvising around the song’s changes (click here for my review of that fine album). 

This music on Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America  is at times even more whimsical and percolating, sweeping you along like if Thelonious Monk was bounding down a rapids in Rio Bravo del Norte in a tire tube while playing along to Charlie Parker With Strings.

Indeed, (in the words of their press release) Parks “plays” an orchestra in his role as arranger.”  As someone who studied under Aaron Copland, collaborated with Brian Wilson and arranged for no less than  Harry Nilsson, Little Feat, Ry Cooder and Joanna Newsom, Van Dyke Parks has few peers in this universe.  He has scored and acted in numerous film and TV projects and even conducted The Kronos Quartet in a live performance of the acclaimed Big Star’s Third concert tour. 

Parks own recordings are a template for this always-expect-the-unexpected musical mindset — his music is gloriously melodic, ever-surprising structurally and always compelling lyrically.  

And it is at this crossroads of highly individualistic orchestral composition and internationally grounded pop song craft that makes Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America such a joy.  And, if these two artists can create four songs of such beauty working together remotely, just imagine what may happen if they hopefully get together in person to flesh out a full album experience.

Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America is being released this week by BMG/Modern Recordings and will be available as a 10-inch vinyl EP as well as digitally.  My copy of the EP came perfectly centered, dead quiet and spinning at 45 RPM so it sounds quite lovely. You can also hear this music up on Qobuz streaming in 24-bit, 48-kHz HiRes format (click here) and on Tidal in MQA format (click here).

Finally, here is some sweet icing on the cake. As I mentioned earlier, Klaus Voormann designed the cover art. Yes, this is the same Klaus Voorman who designed The Beatles’ Revolver album cover — for which he won a Grammy that year! — and played on numerous solo Beatles releases!  I didn’t realize until now that he also designed the cover for VDP’s 2019 collaboration with Gaby Moreno, ¡Spangled! .

To some of you this may not seem like a big deal, but as a fan of both artists who come from different sides of the planet and the music world — Voormann initially emerging into public view from the Beatle-verse (if you will) and VDP from the West Coast/Beach Boys scene — it is pretty fantastic when you learn that they are friends.  And that sort of connectivity kind of fits perfectly in the global village within this album. (Note: special thanks to VDP for providing Audiophile Review with this wonderful photo of the two artists together!)

You should get Van Dyke Parks Orchestrates Verónica Valerio: Only in America.  Scroll down for some samples of their music.

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Record Store Day Vinyl Preview: Harold Land’s Westward Bound!

Westward Bound! is a new release on the Reel-to-Real label being issued for Record Store Day later this week. The limited edition two-record set features under-appreciated saxophonist Harold Land leading a series of smoking jazz combos in live performances originally broadcast on KING-FM during the 1960’s in Seattle, Washington. 

Listening closely to the fire and intention on these recordings — made between 1962 and 1965 — you realize these weren’t just pick up groups behind Mr. Land. He had pulled together special assemblages which included the great Hampton Hawes on piano, Philly Joe Jones on drums as well as Monk and Buddy Montgomery (Wes’ brothers!). 

Still, I suspect some of you might be asking: Just who is this Harold Land?  From the official press release we learn:

“Born in Houston and raised in San Diego, Harold Land established himself as a jazz star with four EmArcy albums in the tenor chair of trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach’s celebrated ‘50s quintet. Based in Los Angeles from the mid-‘50s on, he worked fruitfully as a leader, recorded regularly with big band leader-arranger Gerald Wilson, and played behind such giants as Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk, Les McCann, and Hampton Hawes. In later years he forged fruitful alliances with trumpeter Blue Mitchell, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, and the Timeless All Stars.”

If that is not enough then consider what Sonny Rollins – who replaced Land in the Brown-Roach combo – has to say about him (also from that news release): “Harold Land was one of the premier saxophonists of the time. He was one of the best… He was a great player, one of my favorites.”  

Going back to that fire I mentioned, I hear echoes of classic be bop forms here on Westward Bound!, with tastes of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker melded with that cool-West Coasting vibe ala Gerry Mulligan and Shorty Rogers. 

The title of Westward Bound! isn’t totally lost on me as Land had an album out in 1960 called Eastward Ho! featuring sessions in New York. These performances were recorded for broadcast on the radio live from the opposite coast at Seattle’s legendary Penthouse

Thankfully, the original tapes have been preserved nicely over the years and this new special edition was mastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio. These monaural recordings are remarkably full bodied with a nice balance to all the instruments yet also a good sense of room ambiance and three dimensionality. 

The vinyl pressings are excellent, dark, thick 180-gram vinyl, well centered and dead quiet which is important for a recording like this where there are moments of hushed quiet. There is a certain ambiance of the venue apparent on the recording which the LP captures nicely.  It is unsettling how small the crowd is there in the venue but the band plays its heart out, probably knowing they were being broadcast to a broader audience on the radio. 

You get one shot to make an impression when it comes to radio!

Some of my favorite tracks on Westward Bound! are the perky “Beepdurple” (form 1962) and the beautiful take on “My Romance.” I especially like the interplay of pianist Hampton Hawes and bassist Monk Montgomery in this 1964 performance. The song builds up from a hushed start of just piano and bass but escalating to quite a swinging epic with Land soaring over it all. Yet they bring it back down with Hawes gently supporting Montgomery’s soloing. There is a nice sense of group dynamics going on here. 

Land’s own “Trippin’ The Groove” is a fun swinging blues that launches off a zippy little sax run hook. The band manages to be playful without (no pun intended) tripping one another up on the signature change ups. 

Westward Bound!will be available at most independent record shops that carry jazz on Record Store Day.  This is a good one if you like Land’s playing and enjoy live recordings from that period. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Story Of Herbie Hancock, Vinyl Me Please Boxed Set Part 3: Future Shock and Live Under The Sky

In today’s installment of my listening report on the new Vinyl Me, Please box set called The Story Of Herbie Hancock we’ll explore two very different sides of this influential artist’s career.  If you missed the first portions of this review series, please click here and here for Parts 1 & 2 respectively. I’ve never owned either of these albums previously so I’m relishing the joy of discovery — part of what this set is about!

Future Shock

This album was a big big hit back in the day with its MTV breakout smash “Rockit,” a platinum bestseller. Future Shock was an early hybrid which helped to signal a sea change of mainstream respectability for the then-new forms of music which were still emerging: Hip Hop and Rap.

The thing I didn’t realize back in the day was that this album was co-created with the influential New York underground group called Material which included now legendary bassist and producer Bill Laswell. Listening in 2020 hindsight Future Shock totally fits in with the aesthetic of Laswell’s early Material albums including the classic from 1982, One Down.

Not surprisingly Future Shock has a very distinct period vibe revolving around early drum machines and Fairlight sequencer synthesizer sounds. So, don’t expect to hear an ‘80s version of Head Hunters because this album is about as different as night and day. That said there are still some really cool things on it such as “Autodrive“ and “Earth Beat.” 

For all its computer-driven essence, happily Future Shock sounds remarkably warm all things considered. It was recorded on analog tape so there’s a certain vibe here that disappeared as later digital workstations and computer-based programming became the norm. 

While it is still not my favorite Herbie Hancock record, I can see why it was included in the set. From a historical perspective, it is important to understand Future Shock. And “Rockit” is still a fun track — the video actually holds up quite well after all this time (see below)

Live Under The Sky

As live albums go, Live Under The Sky sounds wonderful and is mastered beautifully, with a rich presence for all the instruments. It is sourced from master digital audio according to the VMP website. The band is on fire from the start and you can feel the connectivity between these musicians. 

Amazingly, the 1979 concert was recorded at the out-of-doors Denen Coliseum and the band played through a heavy downpour.  Judging by fan response during tracks like ”Domo,” they could care less about the weather! It was all about the music and the band rose to the occasion. 

The recording quality and performance are excellent. The only thing I don’t quite understand is the track listing — this is one of those rare moments in the boxed set that seems to be bit incomplete and even confusing.  

One new song was apparently added to the set list which I assume is “Eye Of The Hurricane” (which originally appeared on Maiden Voyage) — looking online I see that it was not on the original release of Live Under The Sky. The official website says that the song was not recorded at the time! 

So, perhaps a tape was found or maybe it was somehow damaged at the time and later was repaired digitally. I’m just guessing here. But, in adding that one track they also seem to have deleted the closing medley of “Stella By Starlight / On Green Dolphin Street” found on the original CD.

So while Live Under The Sky is great, it is also technically incomplete; deep fans will probably want to pick up the CD as well just to have everything. The album was apparently released on vinyl in the U.S. with a very different cover design, so if you have that version you have the original closing tracks. 

There is also a two CD version of Live Under The Sky out with 11 previously unreleased tracks! That version seems fairly complete so, again, hardcore fans will want to seek that out (if they don’t have it already!).

One odd little detail on the cover art for this release which was recorded by Sony and issued on the CBS / Sony Records label.  Yet, in the lower right hand corner of the album is a Verve Records logo. Not sure if this is a printing error or a reproduction of a Japanese edition. Whatever it is, it makes this VMP’s The Story Of Herbie Hancock that much more distinctive. 

In the upcoming final installation of this review series I’ll wrap things up exploring he final two releases this set: The Piano and 1+1.  See you next week!

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

Are Dealers High End’s Ultimate Salvation?

In many ways, luxury audio dealers have been forced to change with the times. In the 1950’s and 60’s, it was very simple – audio dealers were located in cities and town all across the USA, they mostly sold to a local customer base, and rare was the instance manufacturers sold direct. In fact, back then, they basically didn’t. Ever. 

As times changed the audio hobby changed as well. When the iPod was introduced, how music was reproduced, stored, and what was important produced profound and dramatic changes to our little industry. 

Portable devices, then and pretty much now, had one predominate goal – storage capacity. What started as a 1000 song capacity evolved into holding orders of magnitude more music. Sonics? Who cares? As long as someone could recognize the music and sing along with the words, things like clarity, accuracy and dynamics didn’t matter one whit. 

Turntables and vinyl very nearly went the way of poodle skirts and rolling a pack of cigs up in your T-shirt sleeve. Digital audio, born in the early 80’s became the de facto standard for recorded music. Cassettes became harder to find than free beer and reel to reel, which was never a major force, continued not to be. 

What really transformed the high performance audio business was the Internet. Now buying gear was no longer relegated to the guy on the corner whose shop you had visited a million times. Now you could buy from anywhere in the country with a web site. Manufacturers enacted territories arbitrarily and, always desperate to make a sale, willingly ignored them for a large enough potential purchase. 

Dealers, under constant pressure to remain profitable, started closing. It is certainly possible the age of the owner, or their willingness to keep fighting the fight precipitated the numbers of dealers who closed. Maybe they couldn’t survive on the profits generated by a traditional business model. 

Maybe it is time to change the business model. 

It is very easy to blame the Internet for not making a sale. Some guy 2000 miles away sold it for less. Whoopee. But why the sale, and its resultant profits were lost in the first place might have been avoided if the selling process was more than about how much something cost. Maybe while not selling only a pair of speakers the customer who had called fifty places for a price, perhaps the better move is selling cables and other ancillary devices the customer may have never considered. Maybe the term “value added” might be practiced. Maybe it is time to learn a different way to sell. 

There are a number of dealers who have changed their business model in novel ways. Some dealers didn’t even start out as a dealer – they started as a music store and then began carrying one or two used pieces of something. That grew until they also began marketing new gear. And if a customer was reluctant to buy a pair of speakers, maybe they picked up a used receiver for their kid and a handful of CDs and LPs for their own system. More importantly, when they wanted something new, very often they came back. 

I’ve talked with dealers who have developed a relationship with a local school or college. They go into the classroom and actually talk to students about how music is made. The work with the students on understanding why things like resolution and dynamics are important – and how most handheld audio fails in the effort. They try to imbue upon the local youth the indominable difference between a cheap portable device and an entry level system that probably is not all that much more expensive. 

Maybe it might also be an interesting idea to host a live musical event, coupled along with listening to an actual system. Show how remarkable a recording can sound if done correctly. 

Consider audio shows. Remember them? 2019 seems like a lifetime ago. When you look at the participants in these shows, manufacturers predictably come first to mind. It might, therefore, come as a surprise that over the last few years, the number of dealers with rooms at shows has expanded enormously. They can meet more potential customers in three days than they will all year. Most importantly, they have far greater opportunity to make a sale. 

Personally, I would like to see a greater number of smaller, more regional shows. Living in the Southeast finds me in one of the more populated areas of the country. Yet to my knowledge, the closest audio show to Charlotte is either in Florida or Maryland, neither of which I consider to be local. What is wrong with a show in Altana? It would make it easier and less expensive for dealers to participate and connect with their prime market – audiophiles. 

Audio dealers have a distinct advantage over a manufacturer selling direct. One, they can get to know their customers preferences and make recommendations that fulfill their goals. Two, they are knowledgeable about a wider variety of equipment and, most importantly, how well or adversely different manufacturers equipment will interact. And three, dealers are a local source and can come to the customer’s home if there is a problem. They can be a trusted partner in working to provide the best system possible given pricing constraints and the mandates of other family members – something with which many, many audiophiles can identify. 

All it takes is the right dealer with a sharp focus on the future. 

My crystal ball is no clearer on the future of audio than anyone else’s. I can make predictions with not a glimmer of expectation any of them will come true. However, I do feel our hobby is not destined for obscurity because a bunch of gray-haired old men got too old to listen to music. I see our hobby as being at a crossroads of sorts. Do we make changes, perhaps seismic changes to preserve our future, or do we continue stumbling down a darkened path because “that’s how it’s always been done?” 

We’ll have to wait to find out. 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review

The Carpenters: Making The Leap From Singles to Surround Sound

Editor Note: This article was originally published in June 2013 but has been updated for our new website

About a year ago, one of my music buddies and music making co-conspiritors (ie. we play in bands and write songs together) who is particularly fond of “sunshine pop” told me a strange story about a recording he was seeking. Friends often come to me with requests but this one seemed odd as it involved one of the biggest selling pop acts of all time.

He explained that he was having trouble finding a compilation in the digital world of the original single mixes of hits by The Carpenters. Most of the collections apparently feature remixed and updated versions of the hits, not re-recordings but different approaches to the mixdown that read unfamiliar to some people who remember a certain sound they heard on the radio back in the day.

Now, whether you like the Carpenters or not is not really relevant here, but you should keep reading because this story gets kind of interesting. And, perhaps, you just might be intrigued enough to actually go back listen (as I did) more closely to what Richard and Karen Carpenter accomplished during their run up the charts — a lush blend of pop music that arguably picked up and carried the mantle of rich harmonies (alongside other confections like The 5th Dimension, The Partridge Family, The Cowsills, and even The Archies – really!) after The Beach Boys and Crosby Stills & Nash became FM radio staples and until later groups like Abba took hold of the torch. 

The appeal of The Carpenters’ music is apparent from a 20/20 hindsight historical perspective — something I could not fathom as a little kid in the midst of it all. The Carpenters hit it big just as the whole Hippie / Free Love movement imploded. Icons like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison were dead as were MLK and RFK.

Nixon seemed more powerful than ever. A generation transitioned into the 70s with minds blown on drugs and bad news, friends lost to senseless war in Vietnam. The promise that they could “change the world” with music was rescinded. The once unstoppable Beatles even broke up. It had to be a harsh bummer of a reality check the first time people heard John Lennon sing on his 1970 solo album: “And so dear friends, you’ll just have to carry on… the dream is over.” 

Accordingly, The Carpenters were probably a breath of sobering positivity for many, reassuring cotton candy soothing heavily frayed nerves. Stellar melodies, outstanding production and easy-to-digest flavors. They were like an old friend at the bar. Those were the days, indeed. 

I grew up hearing the Carpenters plastered all over the radio as a kid so I never felt need to buy their records. Frankly, for the most part it, was decidedly uncool to admit you liked them back then (ah, peer pressure). Its a bit of a shame as little did I know that Carpenters’ records featured many members of The Wrecking Crew, the very same musicians who played on recordings by The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, and many many others. Knowing this today, I have dug fairly deep into the Carpenters music while looking into this mystery of the missing single mixes. 

Over the year I picked up six (count ’em, 6!) different Carpenters collections, most of which sound fairly similar. The Singles 1969-1973 collection is dramatically revised, with lovely segues and reprises that create a special listening experience unique to that album. But, given the segues, its not really the actual singles some fans want.

I found a promising three CD collection out of Europe which was supposed to have original single mixes on it, only to learn after it arrived — again, reading fan comments online — that someone had put the kabosh and recalled it,  reissuing it with the newer approved mixes.

Mine was the reissue. Dang. 

Then I read about the updated Singles 1969-1981 collection, which promised to be non-segued single-type tracks and which also came in an SACD edition with a brand new 5.1 surround sound mix by Mr. Carpenter. This proved ridiculously elusive, with only pricey versions available on places like eBay for upwards of $100 a pop. Really! Go check it now and see what you find. I was astounded. (Update: click here to jump to Discogs for a search on the title… its still going for crazy money on eBay too)

This past April I found a “bargain” used version of the SACD at Amoeba Records (in LA) for a mere $25 — it has some minor scuffs on it but is otherwise perfect and plays just fine. Score! Finally I would get to hear the elusive but highly regarded surround mix of The Carpenters’ hits. I was not disappointed.

In fact, I like the surround mix so much I have more or less stopped caring about the original single mixes — with apologies to my friend John who started me on this quest —  because 5.1 surround is clearly the way to listen to this music. The densely layered vocal and lush orchestral arrangements envelope you, like jumping into a huge vat of marshmallows ready to make a huge batch of Smores. It is soft, warm, sweet and oh so tasty.

All of this makes me wonder however WHY this recording is so painfully out of print? Obviously, there are legions of loyal Carpenters fans who would love to hear these mixes on their home theater systems. Why not re-release it on SACD or Blu-ray Disc with a bonus DVD including videos (and the surround mixes as well) for those who prefer to watch while they listen? 

You can download the higher (than CD) resolution 48 kHz/24-bit stereo tracks of this collection via HDTracks.com. I haven’t heard them but I would assume they are similar to the high resolution stereo layer on the Singles 1969-1981 SACD. It is also streaming in at 24-bits, 48 kHz resolution via MQA format on Tidal (click here to jump to it if you subscribe) and on Qobuz Hi Res (click here for that).

Whatever the case, until that magical “original singles” collection comes out someday, you should seek out the Singles 1969-1981 collection on CD — or SACD if you have surround sound playback capabilities — or HDTracks download. It is probably the best balance of hits and value — not too long and presenting individual tracks all on one disc for a reasonable price.

 

Original Resource is Audiophile Review